Max Verstappen sets pace as F1 preseason testing begins in Bahrain

Max Verstappen set the pace as Formula One preseason testing began in Bahrain.

Max Verstappen set the pace as Formula One preseason testing began in Bahrain. Photo: AP

Formula One champion Max Verstappen has picked up where he left off last season by setting the fastest time in the first session of preseason testing.

Verstappen lapped the Bahrain International Circuit nearly 0.3 seconds faster than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on Thursday.

Alex Albon was third fastest as Williams seemed to have improved its pace from last season, but George Russell was only fifth fastest for Mercedes behind Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu.

The session had barely started when Felipe Drugovich ground to a halt on his first run for Aston Martin. The session was red-flagged and Drugovich’s car was taken away on a truck under a cover to prevent other teams from taking notes on its design.

Formula Two champion Drugovich is stepping in for regular Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll after the Canadian sustained minor injuries while training on a bicycle in Spain. He later got going again and was seventh fastest in the session.

The season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same track next week.

With few major rule changes for 2023, there are just three days of preseason testing. There were six last season after major changes including the return of “ground effect” aerodynamics which caused many cars to suffer from uncontrollable bouncing and vibrations at high speed.

Other than Aston Martin’s early problems, most of the new cars seemed reliable on Thursday.

Five teams including Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes drove at least 57 laps – equivalent to a full race distance of the Bahrain GP – on the first morning of testing, and all teams managed at least 40.

The afternoon session is expected to see Lewis Hamilton take over from Russell for Mercedes, and Charles Leclerc step in for Sainz at Ferrari. American driver Logan Sargeant will drive for Williams.

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